Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) - an introduction

What is Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)?

Please note that this information is aimed at people who are deafblind and those supporting them. 

ESA is paid to people who have 'limited capability for work'.

This means that you have to be too ill or disabled to work and not entitled to Statutory Sick Pay. Statutory Sick Pay is money paid by law that most employees are entitled to if they are off work sick.

There are two types of ESA:

1. Contributory ESA – you can get contributory ESA if you have made a certain amount of national insurance contributions. Contributory ESA is not means tested. This can usually be paid for up to one year.

2. Income-related ESA – you can get income-related ESA if your income and capital are low enough.

Your capital must not be over £16,000. Capital generally means one off payments or lump sums that you don't get regularly. Savings and some types of property are capital, for example money held in savings accounts or property owned by you that is not the home that you normally live in.

Although it is means tested, you do not need to have made any national insurance contributions.

You are not usually entitled to ESA for the first three days that you claim. Sometimes you will be entitled to claim both contributory and income related ESA at the same time.

If ESA is awarded, claimants will be placed in one of a number of different groups. These groups relate to what work, if any, you are deemed able to do.

Most claimants, other than those in the 'support group', will be required to take part in work-focused interviews and some can be required to undertake 'work related activity'.

Who can claim ESA?

You can claim ESA if you meet the following conditions:

  • You have 'limited capability for work', and
  • You are aged 16 to 64, and
  • You are in Great Britain, and
  • You are not entitled to income support or jobseekers allowance, and
  • You are not entitled to statutory sick pay, and
  • You satisfy the extra rules for contributory ESA or income-related ESA

What are the rates of ESA?

The exact amount of ESA depends on whether you are claiming contributory ESA or income-related ESA. It also depends on what phase of the claim you are in.

The assessment phase is the first few weeks of your claim (usually up to 13 weeks).

The main phase begins on the date that a final decision is made on your claim that you are entitled to ESA

For contributory ESA the assessment phase usually awards:

  • up to £57.90 per week for those aged 16 – 24
  • up to £73.10 per week if you are aged 25 or over.

After that, if you’re entitled to ESA, you’ll be placed in one of 2 groups and will receive:

  • up to £102.15 a week if you’re in the work-related activity group
  • up to £109.30 a week if you’re in the support group

If you’re in the support group and on income-related ESA, you’re also entitled to the enhanced disability premium at £15.75 a week.

You may also qualify for the severe disability premium at £61.85 per week.

 There is more detail below on the support group.

How to apply for ESA

You can apply for ESA by contacting Jobcentre Plus:

What happens when I have made a claim?

The first 13 weeks of your claim are known as the assessment phase. During this time your claim will be reviewed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). You will usually be required to undertake an assessment with healthcare professionals known as the 'Work Capability Assessment'. There are more details on this assessment below.

You might decide to take somebody with you to your assessment as some people have described the process as stressful. You may be asked a lot of questions about your disability that you do not normally talk about, or the assessor may assume that you can do something that you cannot (for example, see a certain size font on a board). It can be useful to have somebody with you for support. This person will know you well and can help you challenge the assessor if they are saying something wrong.

After the assessment the healthcare professional will write a report to the DWP to confirm whether or not you have limited capability for work.

What is the Work Capability Assessment?

There are two types of assessments that the healthcare professional will carry out. They are usually done at the same time.

Limited Capability for Work Assessment looks at both physical and mental health factors. The assessor will use a set of criteria, known as 'descriptors'. You are required to score a total of 15 points from these criteria in order to be awarded ESA. These points can be from a combination of physical and mental health 'descriptors'.

Limited Capability for Work Related Activity Assessment will usually be done at the same time as the first assessment. It looks at your ability to undertake any work related activity. After this test you may be placed in what is known as the 'support group'. If you are placed in the support group you will not be required to take part in work focused interviews or undertake work related activities.

If you are not placed in the support group you will be placed with the 'work related activity group'. This means you may have to take part in work focused interviews. These usually take place every month and should focus on what work you might be able to do as well as what support you may need. You may also be required to undertake work related activity. This may include things such as voluntary work, work trials or a training programme. However, you will not have to apply for jobs.

Your initial claim is made on a form called the ESA1. If you claim by phone, Jobcentre Plus will ask you the questions on the ESA1 and will write down your answers on the form. They will then send this to you to sign and return to them.

Once your ESA1 has been processed, you will then be sent a questionnaire called the 'Limited Capability for Work Questionnaire'. This is a form called the ESA50. This form asks you detailed questions about your condition and how you cope with everyday life. Sense has produced separate detailed information called the 'ESA: Form filling and the Work Capability Assessment' with tips on how to complete this form.

Where can I go for help?

If you:

  • would like to find out more about deafblindness or the services for deafblind people in your area
  • require information in alternative formats including braille, large print or audio
  • would like this information to be translated into your first language

please contact Sense's Information & Advice Service:

Telephone: 0300 330 9256 or 020 7520 0972
Text phone: 0300 330 9256 or 020 7520 0972
Fax: 0300 330 9251
Email: info@sense.org.uk
Website: www.sense.org.uk
If you have comments or suggestions about this information, we'd love to hear from you.
Please email knowledge@sense.org.uk

First published: Wednesday 15 January 2014
Updated: Wednesday 17 August 2016